Call log sheds light on firefighter dispute

by Tom Nash on December 9, 2010

A City Hall call log from the hours leading up to a Feb. 24 committee meeting that saw the appointment of a new group of firefighters appears to corroborate the Curtatone Administration’s explanation of how two top candidates were excluded.

The existence of the log answers at least some concerns raised by aldermen who recently appeared to question whether the call took place, and why they were kept in the dark about the process the city undertook to exclude an Iraq war veteran who the state ordered placed at the No. 1 position on the city’s certified Civil Service List.

“Anybody on the Board of Aldermen has the same opinion, which is we need to have full disclosure on everything,” Confirmation of Appointments Chair Bob Trane said of the recent controversy. “If something’s left out, intentionally or unintentionally, this is the kind of thing that can happen.”

Iraq veteran Sean O’Brien has been at odds with the city since the February Confirmation of Appointments meeting, where the committee appointed 10 reserve firefighters without being told that hours earlier he and fellow veteran Justin Bonner had been ordered placed at positions No. 1 and No. 4 of the city’s certified Civil Service Commission list, from which they were required to appoint the firefighters.

In September, after an appeal, the commission ordered O’Brien to the top of the list again and to be eligible to receive retroactive seniority. Following the ruling, Alderman-at-Large Bill White learned that the city had not shared the back-and-forth that resulted in Bonner and O’Brien being left off the list just minutes before the committee meeting.

“Why were we not told of this?” White asked at an October board meeting. “I’m not going to jump to any conclusions … but I think we’re entitled to hear an explanation of why we were never told about this.”

When city officials lined up to explain the situation at a board meeting in November, they spoke of a conference call with HRD officer Luz Henriquez that authorized the city to ignore an e-mail from her ordering O’Brien and Bonner onto the list because it had already sent conditional offers of employment. City officials had initially contacted the state on Feb. 24 to find out the status of their second extension request for the list – it had expired in Dec. 2009.

The full exchange between the aldermen and city officials regarding the call can be found here, around the 1:20 mark.

According to the Feb. 24 outgoing call log from City Hall, supplied in a heavily redacted form through a FOI request filed through MuckRock, the call to Henriquez occurred an hour before the committee meeting.

Although city attorney Matt Buckley told the board Henriquez approved the city’s plan to go ahead with its appointments, a letter Henriquez sent to the board states she did not approve the move until the next day.

Trane said that while he was glad the city’s actions eventually came to light, all of the communications to and from Henriquez should have been supplied and explained the night the committee voted.

“I think we learned a lesson from this,” Trane said. “It’s a civil service list, and we have to abide by it. If the administration sees issues with how it’s done, they should say something to us.”

Mayoral spokesman Michael Meehan said the administration is committed to working out communication issues with the board.

“From our perspective, we certainly understand the aldermen want an above board procedure,” Meehan said. “We want an above board procedure as well. We want to be thorough and diligent.”

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Barry Rafkind December 9, 2010 at 3:55 PM

Of the 68 calls in the log, only 5 were left un-redacted, all to Boston. Any idea why?

Three of those were to the same number, while the other two were different. Have you confirmed where those numbers go? Did you call them? Is it significant that there were different numbers involved?

Thanks for digging into this!

Tom Nash December 9, 2010 at 4:21 PM

Hey Barry,

If you check the “request” part in the blue tab there, you’ll see the response from the city. I should have put a link to it in there. In short, they didn’t want to release it without confirming the numbers weren’t unlisted, so they asked specifically which numbers/people we were looking for. We decided that for the purpose of confirming this call took place accepting it that way would be OK.

Kerry Heinz December 10, 2010 at 1:33 PM

Something stinks

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